Coined by Harvard Professor Clayton Christensen, author of The Innovator’s Dilemma, the term “disruptive innovation” may not be a term you throw around the office, but is probably something you have experienced either on the job, or in your personal life. The idea of disruptive innovation isn’t necessarily to invent something new, but rather uncover a different use for a pre-existing product, service or technology. This kind of innovation “disrupts” the status quo, often leading to new opportunities that transform day-to-day life.
One example of disruptive innovation that is often cited is the automobile. When first introduced, its high cost prohibited many from ownership. However, when Ford introduced its affordable Model T, the market for horse-drawn carriages was “disrupted” with widespread adoption of autos. Certainly the automobile was a technological innovation, but it was Ford’s cost-efficient mass-production that allowed common folks to benefit. Other “disrupters” include the iPod (disrupting the CD market), or Wikipedia (all but eliminating the encyclopedia market).
Being a disruptive innovator not only means looking for new ways to use existing technology, it means challenging your own perceptions and beliefs about how things are/should be accomplished.
As we work with clients, we often run into a culture in HR that clings to the processes, technologies, and service delivery models that were designed and implemented a dozen or more years ago because they “work” for HR. Things get done, and items get checked off a list.
And even though many of the HR leaders we work with know they need to be more strategic and work with their counterparts on the “business side” of the house, there often remains an ideological wall between the two sides; both want the same result but see things very differently.
Take the First Step
The first step in becoming a disruptive innovator is the hardest. And disruptive innovation is what we’re talking about in HR technology. HR isn’t being asked to invent a completely new way of managing the workforce – HR is being asked to really examine its policies and practices under the “strategic” spot light to ensure the effort and investment being made is driving business results (not HR check-list completion).
So, the first step is truly challenging your own perceptions – and with it creating self-doubt. This is a good thing. Understanding the “other side,” who may have a different idea of how things work, is the only way you can forge a productive working relationship.
To illustrate this, and give you something to try with your business counterpart, look at the image below. What do you see, a duck, or a rabbit?
When this test is given to a large group participants are generally split fifty-fifty between seeing the duck and seeing the rabbit.
OK, now take a look at this image. What do you see, a duck, or a rabbit?
In a large group, the majority of observers see a rabbit.
OK, last one. Duck or rabbit?
You might guess that by the third image, the results of the group (whether they said duck or rabbit when viewing image 2) are completely reversed.
To further illustrate the point, take a look at Joseph Albers’ famed green color block image:
Here, the small box in the right plank appears to be a lighter shade of green than that to the left, when in fact the green hue is exactly the same on both sides.
The exercise is meant to underscore how we all can look at the exact same object yet see something entirely different.
The point of this is that through self-awareness and, more importantly, self-doubt raised by engaging in simple exercises like duck-rabbit, the very basis of our polarization, or engrained ideas is challenged and we become more open to exploring possibilities.
And once we understand that by simply looking at the issue, problem, process, or technology from a different angle a whole new picture comes into view, we can begin to build a winning HR strategy with our partners in business to help realize the organization’s vision of success.
The world of HR technology has been very stagnant and doing things the same way over generations of technology from mainframe to DOS to Windows to Client/Server to Web. It is time in 2012 to look at things differently. Take the time before jumping into a ERP upgrade to look at the other path. Take time before discounting a “suite” approach to talent management to look at the other path. Take the time before just saying “we have always done it that way” to look at the other path. The time is now to innovate!
Another infusion of knowledge…